Prior to the massive earthquake in Japan, it appeared that a nuclear renaissance was underway in the U.S. and around the world. The first new nuclear plant in many years has recently started construction in Georgia. In Tennessee, they are working to complete a nuclear plant that was started about 30 years ago. Furthermore, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has about applications for about 20 other nuclear plants in the U.S. There hasn't been a serious nuclear disaster like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island for many years, which has led people to feel nuclear is safe. In the U.S., Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, there has been a slow but steady acceptance of nuclear power. All of that might now be up in the air.
The emergencies at several of Japan's nuclear sites could be a serious setback for the nuclear industry. Read about Japan declaring a state of emergency at many of their nuclear facilities here. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in areas close to nuclear facilities. Japan's nuclear crisis is bringing about fresh concerns over the safety and reliability of nuclear power and the impact has been swift across the world.
In Germany, about 40,000 people united on Saturday to protest nuclear power. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would inspect 17 nuclear facilities over renewed safety concerns. Read more about this issue in this article titled "Japan Nuclear Scare Refuels German Energy Debate" which appeared in a leading German newspaper.
In France, green groups said the nuclear crisis developing in Japan proves that nuclear energy is not safe and demanded that France stop relying on nuclear power. You can read more about the reaction in France here.
In Italy, there are new protests as well. Italy does not have any nuclear power now but the prime minister wants Italy to have nuclear power in the future. Italy had a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2009, which killed hundreds of people. Since Italy is in a quake zone, the plans for a nuclear future might face much more resistance.
Last but not least, Ken Courtis, the former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) Group in Asia was quoted as saying this in regards to the Japanese nuclear crisis: "A meltdown, which would cause massive immediate damage, would also set the nuclear industry back decades. This would have vast implications for the global energy equation and perforce the world economy."
Obviously, the events in Japan are going to have some effect on the perception that nuclear energy is safe because it clearly is not safe right now in Japan. There is nothing safe about having to be evacuated, having to take potassium iodide or living in fear of meltdown. Some reports say that about 200,000 people have been evacuated in Japan due to radioactivity concerns. Also, these nuclear plants are no longer reliable energy sources for a country that desperately needs power at a time like this.
Aside from the fact that a natural disaster has turned some of Japan's nuclear sites into another crisis, there are other reasons why the world may put up new resistance to nuclear power. For example: there's a good chance a terrorist group will attack a nuclear facility or hijack nuclear materials meant for a nuclear plant at some point. In 2009, Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith warned that her country was at increased risk of radiological or nuclear terrorist attacks. Read more about that here.
NATO Review has a video which discusses the concerns many top officials have over the risk that nuclear materials could be used by terrorists. One concern is that spent fuel rods from nuclear plants could be stolen in countries that do not have adequate security or stable governments. You can see that video here.
In a report to Congress, investigators posing as businessmen were able to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to buy nuclear material, which could have built a dirty bomb. Apparently, all it took is a few calls and faxes in about four weeks to get the license. If that can happen in the U.S., imagine how easily nuclear materials might be to obtain in other countries. You can read more about that report here.
Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirms on it's website that terrorists are interested in acquiring radiological or nuclear materials to make a dirty bomb, read about that here.
It seems likely that solar will be given renewed focus to meet the world's energy needs. There have been no reports of solar panels causing a crisis in Japan or causing evacuations. Aside from that, when you see what the consequences will be if terrorist groups attack a nuclear facility or hijack nuclear materials for use in a dirty bomb, the real cost of nuclear power soars. Contrast that to the fact that a solar plant will never be an ideal target for terrorists to attack. Nor are we likely to see terrorists pursue solar materials to make a dirty bomb as they might with nuclear materials. I doubt the people in Japan think that nuclear power is so cheap compared to the alternatives right now. Natural disasters can cause devastating results to a nuclear facility but not to a solar plant or solar farm. No one has ever needed to take potassium iodide or had to evacuate the area due to a solar panel accident. The consequence of human error is potentially huge with nuclear power and materials, the cost of human error with solar power or materials is minute.
The events in the Middle East are also making us realize that solar and natural gas are energy sources that the U.S. should be pursuing. When evaluating various energy sources, it can't just be a question of what's the "cheapest" source of power today. More questions must be asked and all risks must be considered. What is the true cost to human life and the environment when there is a nuclear disaster caused by human error, terrorists, or Mother Nature? The results of a nuclear disaster are catastrophic, while the words solar and disaster don't even belong together.
All this being said, I expect the markets will show renewed interest in solar energy stocks. I believe companies related to the nuclear power industry such as uranium stocks, will be under pressure in the coming days as the perception of a nuclear renaissance is opened for debate. While I think nuclear energy will remain as one alternative to providing power, I think there is no question this is a major setback for the nuclear industry. I believe that investor interest in this sector will cool for at least awhile.
Uranium and other nuclear related stocks have enjoyed healthy gains in the past year. Below are some of the stocks that are likely to come under pressure in the coming days as the nuclear crisis makes headlines. All of these stocks are trading in the upper end of their 52 week ranges:
Denison Mines Corp. (NYSEMKT:DNN) is trading at $3.29 today. Denison is a uranium mining company. The 50 day moving average is $3.64 and the 200 day moving average is $2.34. These shares traded between $1.08 and $4.52 in the past 52 weeks.
Cameco Corporation (NYSE:CCJ) shares trade at $37.38 per share. Cameco is one of the leading uranium mining companies. The 50 day moving average is $40.38 and the 200 day moving average is $31.61. These shares traded between $20.70 and $44.81 in the past 52 weeks.
Uranium Resources Inc. (NASDAQ:URRE) is trading at $2.33 today. Uranium Resources is a uranium mining company. The 50 day moving average is $2.97 and the 200 day moving average is $1.74. These shares traded between 38 cents and $3.98 in the past 52 weeks.
Uranerz Energy (NYSEMKT:URZ) shares trade at $3.95 per share. Uranerz is a uranium mining company. The 50 day moving average is $4.73 and the 200 day moving average is $2.58. These shares traded between 87 cents and $5.93 in the past 52 weeks.
Uranium Energy Corp. (NYSEMKT:UEC) shares trade at $4.85 per share. Uranium Energy is a uranium mining company. The 50 day moving average is $5.73 and the 200 day moving average is $4.16. These shares traded between $2.11 and $7.48 in the past 52 weeks.
UR-Energy, Inc. (NYSEMKT:URG) shares trade at $2.51 per share. UR-Energy is a uranium mining company. The 50 day moving average is $2.89 and the 200 day moving average is $1.64. These shares traded between 73 cents and $3.37 in the past 52 weeks.
The spot price of uranium might be impacted as well. It could be awhile before the nuclear reactors in Japan have any need for more uranium. Uranium U308 currently trades for $66.50. You can track the price of uranium U308 here.
The data is sourced from Yahoo Finance. The information and data is believed to be accurate, but no guarantees or representations are made.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.